Theatre review - Wind in the Willows the Musical, The Lowry

Wind in the Willows at The Lowry

Wind in the Willows at The Lowry - Credit: Archant

Julian Fellowes brings the family favourite to the stage.

Julian Fellowes, the creative force behind Downton Abbey has put another sumptuous seat of the landed gentry in the spotlight in his latest project. The multi-award winning writer has turned his attention to the tempestuous goings-on at Toad Hall.

There have been many adaptations of Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows since it was published in 1908 – in film, tv, stage and animation – but none before has carried the story along at such a pace or with such vigour.

Speed, of course, is key to the story – Toad’s love all things fast gets him into trouble and leads the others on a journey away from the tranquil riverbank to rescue him.

Fellowes has brought the story to the stage with lyricist George Stiles and composer Anthony Drewe, with whom he also worked on the smash hit Mary Poppins musical, and the team have undoubtedly created another winner.

Every element of the show – the songs, the music, the choreography, the costumes, the sets – is as polished as the bonnet of Toad’s shiny red sports car. And the casting was inspired; Irish singer/actor Fra Fee and Thomas Howes were spot on as Mole and Ratty, Neil McDermott revelled in his role as chief weasel as did Sophia Nomvete as the anxious Mrs Otter.

The comedian and presenter Rufus Hound (who has previously starred on the stage in One Man Two Guvnors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Don Quixote) is the big name in the show and he shone as Mr Toad. From the moment he strides on to stage to the explosive finale, he commands the stage with his energy and ebullience.

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The songs may not have the catchy sing-them-all-the-way-home quality of some musicals, but that should take nothing away from this production.

The costumes – particularly those of the weasels – are sleek. The characterisation of even the more incidental creatures – the hedgehog scouts trying in vain to achieve their road crossing badge for instance – is clever. And the sets – including a life-size train and a wildwood which had a real sense of menace – are lavish and cleverly adaptable.

It’s at The Lowry until November 6, then off to Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre before moving to London’s West End.

Wind in the Willows the Musical,

The Lowry

Until November 6

Tickets from £20.50, 0843 208 600